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Christchurch-Lyttelton Road Tunnel
Control Building

Designed by Peter Beavan, this iconic building was built at the Heathcote (or Christchurch) end of the new road tunnel opened in 1964. We had the opportuntiy to walk the length of it, both ways, on an open day before the tunnel was opened for the first time, and more recently walked it again in 2014, when the tunnel reached 50 Years old.

Unfortunately the 2010-2011 Christchurch Earthquakes severly damaged this stunning building, and the decision was taken to demolish it. The much smaller, and not very noteworthy replacement had just been finished when the 50th Anniversary walkthrough took place.



The Control Building, was a 3-4 story design shaped a bit like the hull of a ship, leading to it being referred to as Canterbury's Fifth Ship. (The first four ships bringing colonists from England, are commonly known as the first Four ships.) On the roadside of the building there was a covered plaza, with toll booths to collect fees from all traffic going in both directions. Axle counting strips buried in the roadway before each booth, allowed the correct fee to flash up to the booth operator, and assist in money collection. The shift controller's desk and office overlooked the booths, and housed a significant number of controls to automatically adjust the many traffic lights through the tunnel, check on booth operations, and to dispatch the tunnel control vehicles (two red Austin Gypsy 4wd's) as necessary.

Rather uniquely, the authority extended policing powers for the entire length of the Tunnel Road Motorway from ferry Road, right through to the Lyttelton Harbour Portal. In 1979 the tunnel road tunnels were done away with, as the tunnel had paid for itself at that stage, and the Tunnel Control Authority was dissolved.


Our personal involvement with this building during 1973, came about when we worked for Plessey NZ Ltd, who had the contract to install and service the many electro-mechanically operated systems that the tunnel had. We used to spend one day a week (wednesday's from memory) servicing all the control equipment, that was set out very neatly in a group of cabinets that gently followed the curvature of the long room they were housed in. (We think virtually all the rooms were curved to some extent.) Mostly it was looking after BPO 2000-style relays, that managed the circuitry to and from the toll booths, the traffic light controls, the clean and foul air (rather large) duct fans, the control to open and close the dividing door halfway down the Clean-air duct, and even a carbon-monoxide anaylser that lived down there in the dark. We also had to look after the Radio-Telephones in the Austin Gypsy Patrol vehicles, and the office Zephyr Mk4, that was always interesting to drive. Generally, the Plessey guy (me) had to ride a pushbike the length of the clean-air duct (nearly 2 kilometres) up above the traffic, to get to all the gear we had to check on. Unfortunately for me, the contract also called for us to replace all the traffic light bulbs, a task performed by myself by standing on the front bumper of one of the Austin Gypsy's while someone drove it bit by bit through the tunnel, complete with flashing lights, to stop people from overtaking us while we made the changes.

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